More than Battles of Armageddon: The Forgotten Story of Megiddo, An Archaeological Paradise
The city of Megiddo is well-known from ancient texts, but it was overlooked for many years. Over the centuries, people had forgotten whether Megiddo was a real city, or just a legend from the past.
Megiddo is located near the Kibbutz Megiddo, about 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) from the city of Haifa, Israel. Ancient Greeks called it Armageddon. It thrived as a Canaanite city in the Bronze Age, but there is also a very dark story behind its fame in the modern world.
Late Bronze Age city gate at Megiddo. (Golf Bravo/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Megiddo is mostly remembered for the battles that took place there. The city faced at least three very important battles in history. The first one was in the 15th century BC, when king Thutmose III fought against a huge coalition of Canaanites led by the head of Megiddo and the city of Kadesh.
A few centuries later, in 609 BC, Pharaoh Necho II decided to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps and fight on the same battlefield with King Josiah of the Kingdom of Judah. The third battle was more recent. It took place in 1918 during World War I, when the Allied troops faced the Ottoman army. According to the Bible and Christian teachings, the city of Megiddo was also the site of the last battle between Satan and Jesus.
‘The Battle of Megiddo, 609 BC.’ ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
Excavations at Megiddo
Archeologists have unearthed 26 layers of the city’s remains. Megiddo was excavated for the first time in 1903. For two seasons, the German archaeologist Gottlieb Schumacher (from the German Society) worked at the site. Unfortunately, much of his documentation was lost during World War I. But his research was also far from typical excavation standards.
Researchers returned to the site in 1925 when J. D Rockefeller Jr. founded the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The Hebrew University continued work at the site in 1960. Other research teams who excavated the site include: Tel Aviv University, George Washington University, Bucknell University, and finally, the Megiddo Expedition. In 2010, a group from the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, led by Matthew J. Adams, unearthed the earliest part of the city, which dates to the Early Bronze Age (3,500 – 3,100 BC).
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The rich history of the city starts during the Paleolithic period, but the first settlement was created there around 7,000 BC. Some of the most interesting finds are from the Bronze Age. The temple built during the Early Bronze Age was monumental - maybe the largest in the Near East. This means that Megiddo was already a very developed city by that time.
Circular altar-like shrine from the Early Bronze Age, Megiddo, Israel. ( Public Domain )
The city reached its peak during the Middle Bronze Age. At that time, it covered about 10 - 12 hectares (about the size of 10-12 international rugby pitches). During the Late Bronze Age, the city was attacked by the Egyptian king Thutmose III - who plundered it. But the city was still inhabited after the attack. Megiddo was destroyed in 1150 BC by unknown causes. Most researchers suppose that it was damaged by Aramaean raiders. However, it was rebuilt and settled once again for a few centuries. Finally, Megiddo was abandoned in 586 BC.
A model of what Megiddo may have looked like in 1457 BC. (1978 photo) ( Public Domain )
Megiddo in the Amarna Letters
Letters from the reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten are some of the richest resources on politics during the 14th century BC. The texts are written in cuneiform in Akkadian - a diplomatic language during those times. They contain loads of information about politics and daily life. One of the letters is a text from a governor (or prince) of Megiddo named Biridiya, who tried to illuminate the pharaoh on the way in which his territories were being used. Biridiya wrote:
“Say to the king, my lord, my sun: a message from Biridiya, loyal servant of the king. At the feet of the king my lord, my sun, I prostrate myself seven times and seven times. May the king my lord think upon his servant and his city. In fact, I alone am cultivating: ah-ri-shu in Shunamma and I alone furnish forced laborers. But behold the mayors near me. They do not do as I do. They do not cultivate in Shunamma, they do not furnish forced laborers. I alone ia-hu-du-un-ni I all alone furnish forced laborers. They come from Jaffa from among the men available and from Nuribta. And may the king my lord take thought of his city.” [via Louvre Museum]